Approaches to Selling Art Online May 12 2020

Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches to Selling Art Online

By Shantay Robinson 

Once an artwork is complete, and sometimes before it is even conceptualized, questions regarding how to sell the art may become a concern for some artists. But there are several ways to get artworks to the buying public these days; galleries are not the only way and might not even be the right way for all artists. The information age has afforded artists of all calibers several ways to sell their art online. While brick and mortar galleries may always be a draw for artists because galleries typically have connections with a large number of monied potential art buyers, there are a plethora of online platforms that are offering services with a reach that defies geographic boundaries. Traditional galleries offer the luxury of an active art buying public and the notoriety of established reputations for quality. The aforementioned options might truly be for more established artists, but gaining recognition, for novice artists, might be much easier in the information age than it has been in the past. 

Create Your Own Website

Starting an online site to sell artworks, doesn’t have to be daunting. There are several online website building options that offer ecommerce. These sites permit the builders to use templates to design their own manipulatable website that allow for unique experiences for the buying public. While an online platform does not really replace a physical space, it does offer a greater reach. In addition to the online platform to sell artworks, a pervasive social media presence can aid the novice artist in establishing a loyal following. Updating social media sites, particularly Instagram, that focuses on visual images, the artist can place a link to their online platform in their bio so that followers can easily find out how to purchase their artwork. Updating social media regularly makes the difference between a successful effort and one that wanes. 

More and more sales of art are happening online. People are becoming comfortable with the idea of buying anything online, so taking advantage of this way to get art out into the world is really smart. But while people are buying online, they may not be willing to pay thousands of dollars to someone without a trusted relationship. Consider making prints of more expensive artworks for those who appreciate the style of art but are not willing to part with a lot of money. Prints of artworks are a great way to go for the spendthrift. But selling reproductions of your work shouldn’t take away from the originals. Limited edition prints will retain the value of your work without disseminating the work to everyone who can buy. And reproductions of artwork embossed on everything from coffee mugs to clothing to notebook covers is another way to make a living on art. Galleries are also still an option unless the gallery has an exclusive clause in their contract. 

Team Up with Existing Platform

Another option other than traditional physical gallery spaces are online art sales platforms. The draw for selling your artwork with an established online art sales platform is that they already have followers all around the world. Each online platform is different with varied commissions structures and exhibition strengths. So, it would best to first do research on all of those of interest and compare which structure might be best for selling a particular kind of artwork. Some online platforms are skewed toward contemporary modern art while others are focused on decorative art and yet another focuses exclusively on black art. In order to find the right online platform, peruse the site and see if there are artists of comparable stylistic qualities represented on the site for an indication of which styles, subject matter, and media are welcomed and how well they sell. Some art retailers do not take a commission from sales. Others take commission from 30%-65%.  And more up-scale online sellers, invest in promoting the artists they represent. Most have a vetting process where the artist uploads their work to the site to be assessed for quality by the staff.  

There is quite a distinction between some online art sellers and others. Some are interested in high art, more like online galleries. And others are more like online retail stores that allow artists to place their artwork for purchase on coffee mugs or have them framed. The price points vary on these sites. More upscales sites have most of their price points above $500 and the retailers offer prices ranging in below $25 for prints embossed on coffee mugs. The decision about whether or not to create a relationship with one online seller or another really relies on the level of artistry the artist wants to maintain. If the artist wants to establish, maintain, and control their artwork’s credibility, selling an unlimited number of prints of their work online will diminish the value of their work, as scarcity of an art object is valued to maintain the exclusivity and cost of an artwork. When making decision on selling artwork online, all of these considerations should be addressed. Would it be more important to sell a large quantity? Or is it more important to maintain quality?

Be Professional

Some media sell better online than others. Paintings, prints, and even tapestries are viewed well as flat surfaces. But sculptures might be more difficult to view on online platforms. When selling online consider that people haven’t seen the work in person, so you should try to put woks online that people will be able to appreciate when looking at it in a picture. So, before deciding which artworks to place online be sure you have good photographs of those artworks. 

While paintings are flat surfaces, capturing details of the painting might be a good way to show the online buyer what the artwork looks like close up. Prints and posters are probably easiest to sell online because they have a good chance of showing up the way they would in person. For sculptures you might need several photographs from different angles. Good photographs likely won’t be produced by smartphones. Enlisting a photographer who specializes in photographs of art is a good investment for sending photographs of your artwork to established and professional online art sales platforms.

The price tag assigned to art is never going to be enough for the sweat, labor, and creative genius involved in creating it. But in order to sell artworks, it must be assigned a price. The value assigned to an artwork determines the value the buyer places on it. If it is priced as if it is worth something, it will be treated that way. It’s the artist’s job to make the work, but it’s also the artist’s job to give the work value. If the artwork is underpriced, it may not be looked upon as an investment by the buyer. Determining the price of an artwork is a subjective affair. Of course, the artist has to purchase materials to make the artwork. But using $20 of materials on an artwork doesn’t mean the artwork deserves a $50 price tag. This doesn’t mean the artist should overprice their ability either. The artist should be real with himself. In establishing a price point, the artist should consider their exhibition history, previous sales, the time it took to create the work, and costs of materials. Comparing their work to similar artists’ work who are at the same skill level is a good strategy for figuring out how much an artwork should cost. Go to galleries of comparable artists and look at their prices. If it is uncomfortable ask an artist, view their work on online sales sites. Doing this kind of research should help in making sales of art. It could prevent artists from pricing themselves out of the market or underselling their value. The artist should increase sales gradually as they become more established.

Quantity or Quality?

Whether an artist is attempting to just start out in the artworld or is leveraging an established art career to the world, determines the route they’ll make in selling online. An art school student might think the best way to get known in the world is to pump out a massive amount of art, so the artworld knows her name. But a more established artist might want to hold off on distributing his art indiscriminately to ensure the scarcity of his work. Either way it goes, there’s a route for both artists online. The novice artist might want a start and sell artwork on their own website in close collaboration with a carefully curated social media platform. And a more established artist might want to offer their artwork through an online platform that caters to a more monied global population. The novice artist with their own website will benefit from all the proceeds from the sale of their art minus expenses like website maintenance and shipping costs. The experienced artist will be vetted by the online seller, featured to an established art buying audience, and then share profits from their sales with the online seller. But it truly is up to the artist to decide what they value most. 

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Shantay Robinson, BAIA resident scholar has participated in Burnaway’s Art Writers Mentorship Program, Duke University’s The New New South Editorial Fellowship, and CUE Art Foundation’s Art Critic Mentoring Program. She has written for Burnaway, ArtsATL, ARTS.BLACK, AFROPUNK, Number, Inc. and Washington City Paper. While  receiving an MFA in Writing from Savannah College of Art and Design, she served as a docent at the High Museum of Art. She is currently working on a PhD in Writing and Rhetoric at George Mason University.

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